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What's Old Is ... 

What does it mean when so many Lollapalooza veterans are performing at Voodoo Music Experience 2004?

As the Clash said of phony Beatlemania, Lollapalooza has bitten the dust. Before it even started this year, organizers canceled the ambitious tour, which was scheduled to last two days in each city and include Morrissey, Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey, Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth, among others. The problem was poor advance ticket sales, which surprised many considering the strength of the lineup, and the cancellation suggests "Lollapalooza" as a brand name meant a lot to a lot of people but never quite took on the same buzz as "Woodstock." Perhaps by being a yearly event, it had a chance to disappoint. It eventually became so irrelevant that it'll come as news to many that there was a Lollapalooza in 1997 and one last year. Woodstock, on the other hand, had its legend guaranteed by being safely a part of the past, with only a couple of ignominious blips after the event at Yasgur's Farm.

The cancellation of the tour doesn't mean, however, that all those bands are doomed to sit home and mow the lawn or travel the rock 'n' roll highways in the solitude of their vans and buses. This year's Voodoo Music Experience lineup includes many of the Lollapa-lonely including the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Polyphonic Spree, Gomez and the Thrills. It also features the reunion of 1994 Lollapalooza tour mates Green Day, Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest and Kim Deal of the Pixies, then touring with the Breeders. Sonic Youth was also part of 1995's Lollapalooza lineup.

Voodoo is not, however, all old Gomers doing Geritol shooters. Balancing the Lollapalooza grads at Voodoo are uppity Warped Tour alumni Killradio, New Found Glory and Sugarcult, and Alter Bridge (Creed, without the Christianity-lite). There is also a substantial contingent of local bands, including Rock City Morgue, Supagroup, Pleasure Club, Cowboy Mouth, Catch Velvet, Theresa Andersson and Morning 40 Federation.

In a article titled, "Lolla-for-Losers: Why Two Day Concerts Suck Ten Years Later," Aileen Gallagher says, "Lollapalooza is a concert experience designed only for those seeking their high school or college diplomas. Its givens -- overpriced water, expensive food, bleaching sun, and unmentionable toilets -- stop being tolerable sometime after you learn to stop throwing up in bar toilets."

Echoing that thought at was Chadbo, who wrote, "the 30-40 year olds don't like sitting in the sun all day, paying six bucks for a beer, or five bucks for a bottle of water after walking through a field, having your stuff searched by security, being told you can't bring an umbrella in, and you can't bring your own water even though it's 102 degrees in the shade."

Obviously, there's something to all that. As time passes, priorities change, knees and backs age, and the willingness to endure the challenges posed by festival shows dwindles. Children demand time. With each passing year, it gets harder and harder not to tsk-tsk "kids these days" and the bands they like.

Still, writing off Generation X'ers and those older is a mistake. Recent sold-out shows at House of Blues by David Byrne, Siouxsie and the Banshees (Lollapalooza, 1991), the B-52's and Ministry (Lollapalooza, 1992) suggest they still like music enough to jam up and jelly tight with crowds, and really, that shouldn't come as a surprise. The younger baby boomers are perhaps the first generation that saw rock 'n' roll music as an ongoing force in their lives and not something that had to be put aside to earn a paycheck above minimum wage.

The record companies recognize this and are clearly targeting the rock 'n' roll audience that refuses to outgrow music. These are, after all, people with a tradition of buying music, not downloading it. They're still plugged into the pleasure that comes with the object itself, whether it's a CD or album, and they see the cover and liner notes as crucial parts of the package. Catering to that market, Sony/Legacy has recently reissued the Clash's London Calling (1979) and Jeff Buckley's Grace (1994), each with an additional disc of previously unreleased material and a DVD on the making of the album (both are for diehards only, by the way). Koch Records has reissued the Kinks albums from the 1970s not once but twice, most recently as Super Audio CDs.

In other cases, rather than spruce up the sound of classic albums, companies have remixed old material to give it a hip patina. Taken to the Next Phase is an album of Isley Brothers tracks remixed by artists like Mos Def, Raphael Saadiq and ?estlove from the Roots, while Warner Brothers' What Is Hip? features versions of label hits like "Midnight at the Oasis" and America's "Ventura Highway" remixed by the likes of Boozoo Bajou and Supreme Beings of Leisure. Such projects have mixed results (Isleys -- good, What Is Hip?-- shameless), but their primary audience is obviously those who'd like to feel they're still hip, even if they have to wear shoes with proper arch support when proving it.

Marketing aside, younger bands also seem to be looking backward. Nu-metal, which dominated last year's Voodoo, seems to have run its glum, angry-at-mom-for-cutting-my-allowance course, and instead we get classic pop from Snow Patrol and the Thrills, whose new Let's Bottle Bohemia owes a serious debt to mid-career Beach Boys. The Polyphonic Spree gives pop a symphonic treatment, fleshing it out with 18 voices, strings and horns, and the Killers' Hot Fuss is almost an encyclopedia of British post-punk and New Wave affectations. Local Supagroup revisits a different tradition -- '70s hard rock -- adding punk's smartass sensibility.

The Great Look Back does come with a few charming ironies. Who would have guessed in 1985, when Beastie Boys' "She's on It" appeared on the Krush Groove soundtrack, that almost 20 years later the band would be a model of artistic integrity? Who would have thought Sonic Youth, the Pixies and Green Day would be considered equally influential? Who would have thought any of those bands would be influential at all? And, after the remarkably average solo careers of Slash, Duff and Scott Weiland, who would have thought Velvet Revolver would be given a hero's welcome?

Fortunately, the celebrations are deserved. None of the bands' recent albums is its best, but their records have become reliable and personal. Sonic Youth may be noisier, like Washing Machine, or trippy, like Murray Street, or somewhere in between, as on the recent Sonic Nurse, but as a listener or buyer you feel fairly certain you're in good hands with Sonic Youth. Similarly, Beastie Boys sounds like Beastie Boys on To the 5 Boroughs, though a little more traditional, indulging in old-school flights of wit for the fun of it. Green Day's American Idiot is ridiculously ambitious -- who'd expect a rock opera from punks? -- but at its core, it's still the punk rock you'd expect from Green Day. Obviously, thinking about Voodoo's lineup from a generational perspective is dangerous. It's easy, for example, to see significance that isn't there in coldly commercial booking decisions. Still, there's something encouraging about seeing bands that never had designs on arena-scale success, much less festival-scale success, getting that kind of attention. Consider it the reward for enduring with personality, the power of positive hanging around.

click to enlarge Who would have guessed in 1985 when Beastie Boys' "She's On It" appeared on the Krush Groove soundtrack that almost 20 years later, the band would be a model of artistic integrity?
  • Who would have guessed in 1985 when Beastie Boys' "She's On It" appeared on the Krush Groove soundtrack that almost 20 years later, the band would be a model of artistic integrity?


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